Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Game Diary.

I had progressed well into winter on my previous play of Don't Starve, but had permitted my sanity level to drop too low.  In the grasslands, while hunting beefalo around a campfire to stay warm, my damaged mental faculties hallucinated a shadowy figure, which killed me at a single touch.  Game over.  Start again.

Tonight, I'd survived to the end of winter with aggressive beefalo hunting and sagacious bee farming.  I'd just returned to camp after a long sojourn to the fertile forests to the west, where - over the course of a half-week (living off daily rations of honey-glazed beefalo) - I dug up a few dozen berry bushes and saplings, for replanting at my base.

I came home, planted the bushes and the trees, fertilized them with beefalo dung, and returned to camp to check my bird traps and turn those berries into a nutritious jam in my crock pots.

The secret to surviving winter?  Sleep.  Make a tent.  It refills your health and, crucially, your sanity, but drastically lowers your hunger meter when you sleep overnight - a comfortable exchange, when a herd of delicious beefalo are just around the corner.

Just before nightfall, it came.

The ground shook with its footsteps.  I knew it was coming, but wanted to believe it was further away.

It wasn't.

The deerclops, towering thirty feet high and just as wide abreast, tore into my camp with wanton, destructive abandon.

I'd never seen one before.  I lit a torch and dashed away, south into the grasslands.  Too south - straight south, instead of southwest, towards the beefalo herd.

The huge beefalo herd.

The deerclops's attacks are huge, sweeping affairs that call up shards of ice wherever it swings its mighty claws.  I dashed right into the middle of the herd and waited.  Waited until its pounding hooves were on top of me.  Waited for it to draw back those cruel talons, and leapt aside at the last moment.  Its fury tore through the ranks of the sleeping beefalo, shocking them awake and inspiring their familial indignation.  The herd swarmed it, slashing with their great horns as it drove its claws into them.

Great chunks of beefalo meat and fur flew that day.  The deerclops must have taken down a half-dozen of them, but there were too many.

And now I have a deerclops eye and like, forty beautiful pieces of meat.

I'll eat well, for a fortnight or so.

Upon returning to camp, I discovered the monster's viciousness at its first appearance had destroyed my tent, and one of my crock pots.  A scratch, when you consider all the other precious items he may have driven his talons through - thank God my Prestihatitator was left unscathed.

Seems likely.

-Critical Miss-

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It`s happened.

The road to where I find myself, now, with Don`t Starve has been a long one.  In July of 2013, I was down and out because Klei - my beloved Klei, who made action-masterpieces Shank 2 and Mark of the Ninja - had confined their latest game to PCs only.

Alex gifted me a copy of the game on Steam, and lo!  My shitty computer, which is used exclusively for blogging and YouTube/GameTrailers videos, could run it!

I tried it out, eminently grateful for Alex`s generosity... and found a game so completely unlike what I expected - nay, wanted - from Klei, that I walked away after a week or so.

But so much of Don`t Starve appealed to me - the art (Klei - natch), the... character of the game.  It was so inventive and hinted at so much depth beneath the surface my doomed corpse splattered across, again and again.

I resolved to give it a second shot, when it came to PS4.

Turns out you can`t ride the beefalo.  This is a fan image. 

In January of this year, Chamberlain and I had a brief conversation about Don`t Starve, after it arrived on Sony`s new-gen console.  I`d managed to put another five or ten hours into the game, and had come away no more endeared.
"I like it, but it seems to require an investment it doesn't... earn?  I guess is the word?  I don't really feel rewarded when I survive a few more days or get some cool stuff coming out of my science machine - and so, don't feel compelled to keep playing it.` 
The game and its world are ludicrously deep, with so much to learn and so many interlocking mechanics, it's very successfully-roguelike in its barrier to entry.  It doesn't hand hold - it doesn't actually seem to want you to enjoy yourself.  It's a game one could play for many, many hours if one became involved in it and dedicated themselves to understanding its wild world, but - perhaps simply given the slow-burn of its discoveries and little victories - it doesn't grab me and compel me the way Klei's earlier action titles did. 
I want to like it.  I even do like it - but I don't love it.  Not near the way I love Shank and Mark of the Ninja.  But, granted, it's a very apples-and-oranges scenario."
-from the confidential correspondence of David Ferber-  

Don`t Starve is oranges compared to anything Klei has made in the past.  It addresses a very different audience, it asks very different things of its player, and offers an entirely different experience.

"Experience" is a perfect word to apply to the game.  A lot of games - a lot of game executives, a lot of publishers, a lot of developers - talk about the experience players will have with their console or game or franchise, but Don't Starve feels like an experience that very, very few games outside of pen-and-paper, imagination-fueled RPGs could provide.

This past January, when I established that I wasn't in love with the game, I closed by saying

"I still want to love it, but I can't say that I do. My gaming sensibilities may be shallower than I'd like to admit. But I do like it - and perhaps that friendly feeling will draw me back to the wilderness to learn, explore and discover more of it - though I can't say when that'll be.

Maybe when it's on Vita."
-about Don't Starve-

And that last part, my friends, was prescient.

Butters would flee, come nightfall.

The Vita is, as suspected, where I could fall in love with Don't Starve - and I have.  The fact that I can take it with me anywhere, that I can stretch out in bed with it while Kayla watches How I Met Your Mother, that it's always just a tap of a button away, lowers any sort of barrier to access and ensures the game is always present and ready to rock.  That ease of use makes diving back in, making new discoveries all the more enticing, and I find I've now poured more hours into Don't Starve on Vita than any game save Dragon's Crown.

And you know you don't want me to get started on Dragon's Crown.

Perhaps just as important, though, returning to Don't Starve a third time has permitted me to come at the game with my eyes entirely open as to what, precisely, it is.  It is incredibly, ridiculously deep, it permits the player a myriad of strategies to ensure their survival, and it is absolutely unforgiving of ignorance of inexperience.

Willow's Journal, Day 26.  My hunger meter is two pixels from total starvation, and night is coming.  I have trapped three bunnies, however, and have loaded them in to my crock pot, along with a wooden stick.
I pray it finishes cooking before I die.

I think I fell in love with Don't Starve after the Treeguard.

I had been playing as Wendy, who is immune to fire damage, will randomly set things on fire when she gets nervous and carries a sweet lighter.  Is was a few days before winter and I was involved in setting up my camp - I'd need boards for this and wood for fuel, so I set off to the forest north of my camp and began hacking away at trees.

Then one of the trees got up.  It heaved itself up by the roots, and came for me.

I didn't know what to do.  I'd never seen this before, or heard of it.

I ran.  South, to the grasslands.

Willow's pyromaniacal insight proved helpful - I lit a fire in the middle of the field and fed it until it was wildly out of control.  The Treeguard, this lumbering floral T-1000, never stopped coming, and would dumbly step across the fire as I circled and led him into it, again and again.

He burned and burned, but didn't die.  In a last ditch effort, I equipped a luxury axe, its gold blade gleaming, and charged to deliver the killing blow.

The Treeguard lifted its branchy claws, brought them down, and killed me with one swipe.

I respawned at a touch stone far to the north, using my only, precious rout to life after death, and went back to camp.  The Treeguard, now satisfied, passively wandered the game world, uninterested in me whenever our paths crossed.

I gave it a wide berth, and eventually succumbed to bee stings.

I soon learned that Treeguards will heave themselves up and come for me, randomly, when I chop down trees.  They are the forest's way of telling me to fuck off - but their murderous rage can be soothed by digging deep, finding my inner Boy Scout and planting fir trees near it, as it comes for me.  Every pine cone stuck into the earth will make the thing emit a soothed, gutteral purr of sorts, and eventually - if I'm lucky - it will root itself back into the ground, and become dormant.

After a while, though, that wasn't enough.  Merely surviving.

The next time a Treeguard showed up, I had barely been surviving in the world for a week.  It broke free of the soil and came for me.  I went to my pockets to find some pine cones and thought to myself... y'know what?  No.

I can take you, you colossal fucker. The kind of hubris that usually serves as one's epitaph in Don't Starve. 

I ran back to camp, loaded down with all the logs I'd harvested and ran up to my science machine.

Three bunches of grass, woven together, create a rope.  I quickly assembled three.

With one rope, one shard of flint and two twigs, I slapped together a spear.  The weakest pure weapon object in the game, it does slightly more damage to enemies than an axe.

With two ropes and eight of the wooden logs I'd gathered, I built a Wood Suit.  I'd never made or used one before - wearing any type of clothing on my torso forces me to drop my backpack.

I dropped my backpack.  I put on the suit and brandished the spear, and turned to face my enemy.

It took a long time.  Baiting the thing into throwing out a swipe of its colossal, thorny claws and dashing in to slash at it.  "It's you or me!" Wilson would bleat in his trumpet-voice.  We fought on and on and y'know what?

It didn't hit me once.

Check out the durability on that log suit.  Not a scratch.

Shortly thereafter, I was killed by pig men.

But that's okay!  'Cause I keep wanting to dive back in.  I've been finding myself okay with it when I need some charcoal and accidentally torch an entire forest.

After all, that just means I'll get a lot of charcoal.

In my most recent game, I finally got bees, man.  Bees.  I tore apart a bunch of hives (protected beneath my log suit and beekeeper's hat) and set up my own bee boxes and with the honey, I was able to make some taffy, some berry jam and honey-glazed ham.

With my newfound respect for the log suit, I traveled to the grasslands and killed my first beefalo.  With a razor, I cut the beard from my face and charred up the steaks and assembled them in to my first-ever meat effigy - one of the only player-driven ways to survive after death.

After I made it, I headed north.  There's a beast named MacTusk - an anthropomorphic Walrus of Scottish descent - who leads a hunting party that only shows up in Winter, and with MacTusk's tusk, I could create a walking stick that'll let me get around the map much faster.

I didn't find MacTusk.  I let myself stay away from camp too long, and I could hear the distant baying of the hounds that would soon be upon me.  I needed to get south, to the grasslands, where the hounds would make the foolish mistake of attacking the beefalo herd - but began freezing to death on my way.  I stopped to build a fire, and in the time it took to assemble, they killed me.

I respawned at my meat effigy and headed back north to get my stuff.

Then I froze to death.

Don't Starve.

My Name Is by Kellylee Evans.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I'm too "casual" for Destiny.


Bungie has taken steps to address Destiny's loot problem in an upcoming patch.  Also, while I'm linking to Kotaku, can I just say that Kotaku's Destiny review was the best, most in-depth, even-handed Destiny review I've seen?  I don't often give ups to Kotaku, but Kirk Hamilton's Destiny review is an exhaustive look at what works and what doesn't.

I read it before I wrote mine and it made me not want to write one at all.  It'd be like building a sand castle next to a sand-ziggurat.

The news of a loot system that doesn't drive players towards treasure caves (Destiny, it seems, has produced a new gaming term) does spark a little flame of desire to return to the game and shoot more things - I've also heard they're buffing scout rifles, which are my weapon of choice - and I feel like maybe running around Mars or Venus after having spent some time away will allow my heart to grow a bit fonder.

There's this cynical part of me that feels like anyone who could give Destiny 10/10 are - for lack of a better word - "casuals."  Definitely the wrong word.  I mean...

I've no doubt there are people out there who buy one game a year.  If that.  Those people exist - in fact, they probably outnumber "gamers" like you and I by an order of magnitude - and when they get a game, it's all they play.  They will play the crap out of that one game all year and beyond, and love it to bits, and can't say that it's not as good as such-and-such a game in such-and-such a way because they've only played four or five games, total, for the PS3, and have no frame of reference.

What I'm saying is, in a vacuum - with no contemporaries to compare it to - Destiny could easily be considered a masterwork, and a spectacular way to spend a year with a controller.

'Course you could say the same about True Crime: Streets of L.A, but let's not get off the rails, here.

I can't see Destiny that way.  I wander the distressingly-confined wastes of Mars and find myself remembering the plains of Sarutabaruta in Final Fantasy XI, discovering caves that seemed to go on for an eternity and held untold horrors to fear, fight and overcome.

I still remember, this one time, I - a young Elvaan Samurai - was in a party with a few other low-level players, and our group accidentally pulled two or three too many monsters in those caves.  I shouted a command for the squishy casters to flee to the zone exit as the hulking Galka warrior and I caught the monsters' aggro and held them at bay, buying time for their escape.  I told him to run for it, and he said the same to me.  Together, we held the creatures back long enough for our friends to make it out - and died.

When you died in Final Fantasy XI, at the time, it cost you like 60% of a level's worth of experience points - not to be taken lightly - but we were heroes to those three casters we'd saved.  Moments like that hold the beauty of multiplayer.

I never had experienced anything that was emotionally similar in Destiny.

I wander Destiny's silently-shared word and think of the thrilling spectacles one would get caught up in in the similarly-mute Grand Theft Auto Online.  I'd think of days on end spent, as a Rogue, shrouded by stealth on the little hill that overlooks the town of Crossroads in the Barrens in World of Warcraft, harrying that small town to the ends of the earth, earning a reputation as an assassin the Horde prayed would never hit the level cap

I can't play Destiny in a vacuum where those exquisitely meaningful shared worlds don't exist.  They exist, for me.  I lived them, and Destiny's shared world pales in comparison.

That phrase - "shared world" - is how Bungie themselves chose to define Destiny.  A "shared-world shooter," to be accurate - to distance the game from a dyed-in-the-wool massively-multiplayer game, I suppose - and the game's reduction of that otherwise-familiar concept ends up providing something far less absorbing, for the trouble.

Every location in Destiny is "instanced," if you're familiar with the term.  An "instance" is a part of a game world, usually closed off - a cave, a dungeon - that can be inhabited by a limited number of players.  As I go wandering the ruins of Old Earth Russia, for example, I'm in one of a thousand instances of that environment, and each of those instances is (randomly? I don't know) populated by a few other players who also happen to have chosen to go to Old Earth Russia.

If there's a player who spends all their time in the plane graveyard of Russia - a player who stands atop the tail fin of an ancient, downed jumbo jet, picking off distant Fallen with a sniper's eye, only descending to collect more ammo before climbing back up there, that wacky character - I'll never know him.

I'll stroll through the graveyard today, and perhaps see him.  The next time I go to Russia, I'll be in another instance - and another, and another.  I won't get to know player-personalities like him because they live in a thousand different versions of this world, slipping in and out of my reality like ghosts.

Instead, Destiny will forever be a... colourless porridge of a million different players I'll meet once, and then never again - and no true "culture" will ever emerge. If one does, it will be the product of a slow osmosis of temperament between five million people - not driven by unique, powerful personalities who truly share your world.

They're only visiting.

That troubling, miasmic, disconnected sense of place may only be true for... well shit, I'll say it - more "casual" Destiny players, like me - which I feel is an excellent word for it.

Destiny's base is built on souls who play with their friends and have standing fireteams they can always join. This is, I feel, how the game was meant to be played - and such relationships require a commitment that I simply cannot offer the game.  I can't know that tonight at 19:00 EST, I'll definitely be available for the Queen's Wrath strike, and given that the game stubbornly refuses to provide matchmaking for anything beyond the vanilla dungeons, I will never get to experience it.

The folks who will are the folks who're prepared to pour their everything into Destiny - the folks who buy one game a year.  I envy them that.

Far Cry 4 - Pagan Min: King of Kyrat trailer.

Oh man.  The part where you ride an ATV off a cliff and open your wingsuit and fly after the plane and then throw a grenade at the plane mid-flight and the plane is all ba-goosh that was awesome.

Oooh Viking Squad!

A roguelite 2D beat'em up RPG!  Woooo!

The announcement says it's coming in 2015 to PS4, but the devs note "we are all fans of the Vita so it’s definitely on our radar!"

Nice.  'Cause you know that's where I want to play this thing.

Alien: Isolation extended TV ad.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Moon Hunters. Oh my God.

PlayStation Blog post.


The campaign's got 12 hours to go, as of this writing - but it's already reached its PS4 and Vita stretch goals.  Awesome.  Day one.  Why is this the first I've heard of this game?

Check out the teaser for Vane.

Now, here's the interesting part:

"A child with an odd ability stuck in a strange land. A dangerous natural environment inhabited by a strange civilization. Vane is an open-world adventure game based on mystery and exploration.

Vane is a single-player game being developed by a few ex-members of The Last Guardian team. The game focuses on unraveling the mysteries of an unknown land via exploration, puzzle-solving and other features yet to be revealed, in an atmospheric and powerful setting.

• Platforms: PC first, others TBA

• Release: when it's done."

Olli Olli 2 coming to PS4 & Vita in 2015.

Yeah... day one.

Phil LaMarr is in Shadow of Mordor!

Wait, what?

Well this excites me. He's Ratbag the Coward, your conniving Orc ward.

I can dig it.

Oh, and hey there's a new trailer out today!  And it's... eight minutes long.  Okay let's see...

Yeah I watched that whole thing.  Okay, hype level rising.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

REVIEW - Destiny.

Destiny - an online multiplayer co-op sci-fi FPS RPG from Bungie, the folks responsible for the legendary Halo franchise - suffers from an excess of hype. More than a bit of responsibility for that can be laid squarely at the feet of publisher Activision, who famously announced that they had invested half a billion dollars in the game and its promotion.

The game's concept - a massively-multiplayer FPS RPG from masters of the shooter - is a deeply attractive one, but that concept alone creates an expectation that Destiny doesn't deliver.  Take, for example, this absolutely fantastic live-action commercial for the game.

The game Activision is selling you only keeps half of that beautiful ad's promise.

The part that's three friends squaring off against grotesque legions of warrior creatures from beyond the stars at the end of their gun barrels, the part that's overcoming crazy-awesome challenges with style and flair and explosive super powers - that's all here.  But we've seen that a thousand times before.

The more inspiring part - the part we haven't played to death in countless other games - of blasting our hoverbikes across the wide-open, verdant fields of Venus, of trudging along the lonely, infinitely-sprawling surface of the moon, the four corners of the compass begging for discovery and exploration...

...that's not here.  At all.  Ever.  The most beautiful, attractive part of Destiny - the part it really sold itself on - doesn't exist.

And Destiny really does, more often than not, feel like a game of two unequal halves.  The action side is excellent.  The RPG side is far less than compelling, because it almost completely lacks any significant customization on the part of the player, and fails to stand up to the standard set by the massively-multiplayer games that have come before it.

Have you ever tried World of Warcraft?  You're a gamer, you probably have.  Imagine if you started up your first character in World of Warcraft and, twelve hours later, had explored every environment it had to offer, and spoken to every single NPC in the game.

That's Destiny.  It doesn't reward exploration in any way, shape or form (unless you count about five hidden treasure chests on each planet, that don't contain much).  While its worlds are gorgeous, it doesn't ask the player to become absorbed in them.  How could they, after all, when they'll be leaving for the next planet (of four) in an hour or two?

As a game that's suggested it belongs in the MMO space, Destiny can't compete in terms of pure content and scope.  The real estate offered by the moon, Venus, Mars - each is ohhh about the size of a single chapter in the original Halo.  A mostly-straight walk with some areas that are about the size of a football field to stretch out in.

But man its skyboxes are gorgeous.

They speak of shattered planets, of once-great civilizations laid low under the brutal, tri-toed feet of alien regimes bent beneath the unstoppable will of a faceless darkness, and you explore them through classically-Bungie environments that sprawl a bit here and tighten up into old-school corridor shooting there.

It looks grand, but it doesn't feel grand.  The act of exploring its sci-fi universe feels similar to any other, less-ambitious linear shooter you've played - and less, as it flatly refuses to shore up its environments with discoverable tidbits.  There are no audio journals to find, nothing in the environment to interact with, no NPCs to speak to - no real sense of place.

There's a narrative - a translucent, meatless affair about a giant orb that came to earth and kicked off a second renaissance, but its sense of grandeur and mystery almost instantly dissolves, and loses any real hold on the player's imagination when they're told, five minutes after picking up the controller, that their actions have just crippled the enemy faction and now everything's changed forever.

For the remainder of the game, you're numbly aware that your actions have no genuine impact on the game or its world, and when your companion AI tells you you've just done what no one else ever, in the history of everything, thought could be done, you swallow it down and do your best to ignore that hundreds or thousands of players have done it before you, and will do it after, and nothing has changed.

You didn't even get any decent gear out of it.

Most of Destiny is gorgeous.  Some of it ain't (PS4 screen).

In the arena of gear, Destiny comes across as woefully self-important, and willfully cruel, at the expense of the player.  Like any FPS-RPG (Borderlands), your effectiveness in battle is directly tied to the quality of the weapon in your hands - and as you level up and face tougher foes, the low-level gun you're holding throws the game's difficulty curve out the window, and makes it an absolute slog.  Destiny doesn't address this in any way, shape or form.

Upon hitting the game's "soft level cap" of 20, a player will find themselves desperate for gloves and boots and a pistol that are simply representative of their level - a weapon's damage is directly tied to its level, and directly impacts a player's ability to take on its end-game challenges - but the game flatly refuses to provide one.  In fact, getting any useful items in Destiny is an exercise in frustration, and the literal definition of "grind."

Even worse, for all but the most grind-happy players, Destiny doesn't offer any routs to continue enjoying the game once they hit twenty.  You're either going to the Crucible (player-versus-player) or playing the same Strikes (dungeons) you've already played for hours upon hours upon hours to earn enough reputation and "marks" (currency) to purchase a new weapon or pair of mittens.

After hitting level 20, I kept playing.  I kept playing for hours, in the hopes that I might find any level twenty weapon that I could leverage to continue the game and find... meaning in it, but Destiny demands everything, or nothing.

Did you know the first players in the world to defeat Destiny's end-game raid, the Vault of Glass - this crew that spent ten-plus hours coming to terms with its omnipotent challenge, defeating the hardest gauntlet the game had to offer, didn't actually receive any useable gear from it?

Why should I play you, Destiny?

You're not rewarding.

Well, hang on, that's not entirely true.  You're  rewarding in one aspect.

You're a ton of fun to actually play.

This is a game in which you shoot the legs out from under a gigantic, ambulatory spider-tank under the command of the evil Fallen, watch it collapse to the dirt, exposing its tender core and do a double-jump to soar over it, tapping R1 and L1 to wind up and launch a magical Nova Bomb from your outstretched palm, which cripples its health bar and obliterates any weaker enemy nearby.

This is a game in which you and your fireteam will put your backs to the wall, rattling off headshots like it was riding a bike, popping skull after skull as the hordes of the Hive descend upon you from their gooey nests.

The part of Destiny that lives up to its hype and its heritage is entirely how it feels to play when you look down the barrel of a weapon and squeeze off a round.  It feels perfect.

Bungie's control scheme is perfect.  The feel to your movement is perfect.  The snap of a melee strike is perfect.  The way you can put your aiming reticle on an enemy's noggin, squeeze L2 to bring up the irons and snap R2 to rattle off a single round is perfect.  The game's headshots are practically announcements to everyone around, as necks erupt with steam or sparks or all manner of special effects, proclaiming to the world "check out this badass landing headshots!"

Add that to the fact that Destiny is - a few weird, ugly standouts aside - absolutely gorgeous and a feast for the eyes, and what you have is a phenomenally-polished first-person-shooting experience.

The game is beautiful in the playing of it.  It's the rest of the design - the small-scope MMO that doesn't permit matchmaking, the RPG that obscures how you actually develop your character and the MMORPG that seals any sort of satisfaction or forward momentum beyond level 20 behind days of grinding meaningless, repetitive tasks - that has pushed me away, and assures I will only return to Destiny when I want to enjoy some of that sublime Bungie shooting.

I know for a fact that there are gamers who'll wholeheartedly dive into Destiny's tacitly rewarding grind.  There are thousands of players for whom the act of snapping up their iron sights and rattling off headshots at the blade-wielding Fallen Vandals who're ambushing their squadmate will be reason enough to play the game, and it won't feel like a grind at all - but I'm not one of them.

It's regularly beautiful, it plays like a dream. It offers a spartan slice of meaningful content and cripplingly ill-informed design as a massively multiplayer RPG.

I wonder if it's the game Bungie had intended to make.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Superquick game diary!

I "beat" Destiny the other day.  I finished all of its "campaign," I should say.  I'm level twenty - I think I have one piece of gear with the "light" stat, which is the only way to push your character up to twenty-one and beyond - but here's the thing... I'm kinda' bored with Destiny.  I went to the loot cave the other day, shot into it for forty-five minutes or so and didn't wind up with a single upgrade.

If that's the fastest way to earn better gear in Destiny, I think I'm... kinda' done with it.

I'd rather replay sections of Diablo III, or play Don't Starve or Velocity 2X.

So I will.  G'night.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Once again, a ton of stuff is coming to Vita.

And there are one or two that one may get a bit hyped about.  One thing that looks super-interesting to me is Zodiac, which is coming from a Scottish developer and some ex-Final Fantasy talent.

Look at that, man.  Those are sprites.  Big, gorgeous, 2D sprites.  I'm already in your corner, Zodiac.

If that awesome music sounds familiar - in a Vanillaware sort of way - it's because, yes, the music is being handled by Hitoshi Sakimoto, the fellow who founded Basiscape (which handles all of Vanillaware's soundtracks, and did the score for Valkyria Chronicles).  The scenario, meanwhile, is being written by Kazushige Nojima, who's worked on a half-dozen Final Fantasy games and has been plying his trade since 1989.

Zodiac's currently only announced for iOS and Vita, but the devs have heavily suggested it'll be coming to other platforms.  They describe it an "asynchronous multiplayer game with MMO-like features," so yeah.  Zodiac.  Remember that name.

Second, check out The Sun and Moon.  It's the winner - among two thousand, four hundred and ninety-seven other entries - of the Ludlum Dare game jam, and it'll drop on Vita in 2015, after its PC release this year.

What you see above is the player diving in to the ground - when in the ground, gravity reverses, and wants to fling the player up into the sky.  By jumping higher and crashing down with more velocity, you can dive deeper - which can, in turn, throw you higher.  The game has 150+ levels, and multiple areas will be available to be tackled at any given time.



Selvaria Bles, queen badass of the original Valkyria Chronicles (which never got a proper sequel) is joining the cast of Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, a sprite-based fighting game that's rostered almost-exclusively by characters from semi-obscure Japanese manga and anime.  The game's coming to PS3 and Vita, and serves as the next kick-in-the-nuts reminder that SEGA refuses to do anything meaningful with their awesomest properties.

On the bright side, Fighting Climax looks totally insane.  Note 0:47 - 0:57:

Sony also featured three indies on the PS Blog yesterday - Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror is a South American game that puts the player in the incorporeal shoes of a malevolent spirit.  A puzzle game, it requires the player to use available objects and skills to scare the tenants of the building it haunts out, across 100+ years of history.  Interesting.

They also talked about Super Exploding Zoo, which kinda' stuck out at this year's E3 and I'm totally getting,

Finally, Curve Studios - the crew that mostly ports other, more-successful indies to PlayStation platforms when they're not developing the meh-quality Stealth Bastard franchise - are porting over something called Nova-111, which they describe as a sci-fi action-turn-based-strategy-sort-of thing. They don't do a very good job of explaining it.

Oh!  Also - Earth Defence Force, on Vita. 

Also, a new trailer for Persona 4: Dancing All Night.  

...which I kinda' wanna' get just for dancing Chie. 

Also, Neptunia Re;Birth 3 V Century was announced for Vita.  

Also... and this really should have gone at the top of the article: Project Scissor, a spiritual successor to Clock Tower, is coming to Vita (and iOS and Android). Featuring Game Designer Kouno Hifumi (Clock Tower), Film Director Shimizu Takashi (Juon, The Grudge), Creature Designer Ito Masahiro (Pyramid Head).

Fuck.  Yes.

Okay fine, I'll get Shadow of Mordor.

Thanks for voting!  Shadow of Mordor beat out Shadow Warrior with sixty-three percent of the vote, so... that's pronounced.

My work friend will be pleased.

This weekend's PSN flash sale is all about the racers.

I love the PSN flash sales.  I rarely take advantage of them - such is the curse of one who tends to just go buy the games they want, at release - but it's always lovely to feel like we're enjoying an experience that's kinda-sorta-not-really-but-almost like those Steam users get with their ninety-nine-cents-for-ten-2K-games deals.

There are a ton of racing games in the sale (only one for PS4 - Cel Damage), and - more interesting to yours truly - a half-dozen on Vita.  I have, I'll be honest, always had my eye on Need For Speed: Most Wanted for Vita - but it was always thirty or forty bucks, and I'm not a huge racing game guy.

When genre-specific sales like this hit, I tend to pick a platform (Vita), take all the names they've listed and fire them in to Metacritic's search bar to see if there's any I should really be aware of (any game developer reading this just fainted).  So let's give it a shot!

Asphalt: Injection - Metascore: 49 - $4.99

MotoGP 13 - about 78 with 2 reviews - $7.49

MUD – FIM Motocross World Championship - Metascore: 60 - $7.49

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (!) - Metascore: 79 - $4.99

Ridge Racer - Metascore: 44 - $5.99

Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed - Metascore: 75 -  $9.99

MotoGP is kind of a sim-y motorcycle game, and its console reviews are a lot lower.  Pass.

Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed is a kart racer - that'd be cool!  But don't I already have that with PlayStation Plus? (Checks.)  Yes I do.

Welcome to my Vita, Need For Speed.  I've been waiting for you. ...as if I don't already have enough to play on there...

The FFXV TGS '14 gameplay demo.

Man I wish I knew what these dudes were saying.  I've still never fallen in love with a Final Fantasy, but XV has a few really pronounced strengths that appeal to me - its graphics are the new hotness, and it seems to be an action RPG, which I find hard, as a general rule, to dislike.

Fortunately, I can totally dislike the hair.

Friday, September 19, 2014

REVIEW - Genroku Legends: Hell's Where the Heart Is.

A 2D Metroidvania-esque title with a bit of RPG to it and a ton of action, Hell's Where the Heart Is is the send-off to the Genroku Legends series of downloadable content, whose quality warbled from okay (A Cause to Daikon For) to great (A Spirited Seven Nights' Haunting) to fantastic (Fishy Tales of the Nekomata).

Muramasa Rebirth, the luxurious game that spawned the series, may be accused of playing things a bit too straight in terms of mechanics - both heroes of that game's twenty-hour campaigns had identical combat styles - but none could accuse Genroku Legends of the same predictable simplicity.

The series, as a whole, has a lovely balance to it - like a four-course meal of well-paired dishes, with no one flavour overtaking the whole.  There was tragedy (Nekomata, Haunting) and comedy (Daikon, Hell), and while Fishy Tales of the Nekomata, the starter, remains the most memorable in terms of story and style, Hell's Where the Heart Is is a grand finale for the series in terms of combat mechanics.

Let's begin at the beginning. Once upon a time a young monk named Seikichi abandons his holy order, and heads out into the world in search of some sweet lovin'.

He hits on everything in his path, getting slapped or insulted in turn, and eventually comes across Momohime from Muramasa's core campaign, who's chillin' out, eating a rice ball.

Rolling the dice for the hundredth time on the off chance a woman may to fall for his lines, he bursts forth with a declaration of love,

and hears the words "I accept," from a hedgehog-haired demon-girl, who just happened to be standing nearby as Momohime finished her rice ball, and left.

And she holds him to his word.

Rajyaki, it turns out, is a princess - the youngest daughter of Lord Enma, ruler of Hell.  Desperate to escape his promise, Seikichi spins lie upon lie.  The innocent (?) Rajyaki takes everything Seikichi says as the gospel truth, and sets off across Japan to free him from a nonexistent arranged marriage and retrieve his soul from the mountaintop he swears he left it on - after stuffing him in to the bottomless sack she wears on her belt, because "as husband and wife, we shouldn't be separated."

Almost a horrific sex-comedy of errors, Seikichi repeatedly tries to escape Rajyaki's affections and ends up stumbling into the clutches of even more monstrous creatures that lurk beneath masks of beauty.

Of course, that provides Rajyaki the opportunity to show what the youngest daughter of Hell can do, when she puts her mind to it.  Which is a lot.

Rajyaki's only on Earth because she's trying to retrieve a bunch of magical treasures, you see, and has so far collected her magic bag and the Lucky Mallet, She'll whack herself on the head with the magical golden hammer mid-combo and transform from her manic child form to a beautiful young woman (with horns, crazy hair and a six-foot spiked club), and into a colossal being of pure muscle and rage, who goes all E. Honda on entire screens' worth of enemies at once.

You mash square - ora!ora!ora! - as she fills the room with blinding strikes of her mighty fists and, if you land enough strikes of the combo, a halo of red light will collapse in on her, signalling that she's ready for her ultimate blow.  When that combo ends she will let forth with a final, colossal attack that kills pretty much anything it touches.  This is called a "crushing blow," and it's a mechanic that's unique to Rajyaki, among her Muramasa and Genroku Legends peers.

Wham!  Broke your sword!

Each of her forms can perform a type of crushing blow, and they are intensely satisfying.  In adult form, mashing square will cause her to spin her club in a perfect circle, which hits so many times so quickly that it obliterates all but the strongest enemies caught in its vortex.  Schwoop! The halo of light zips into her, you stop mashing square and she leaps into the air (in whichever direction you're pressing) to come down on her foes with a mighty, single slap of her club so powerful it causes an explosion that ripples into the sky in gorgeous, artfully-painted clouds of burning-red smoke.

Her child form has two crushing blows - one tied to her "secret art," which involves a colossal stone hammer,

and another that takes advantage of her manic lightness.  Every character, with every weapon in Muramasa Rebirth and the Genroku Legends has a drop attack - pressing down and square while airborne.  When Rajyaki executes it in her child form and strikes an enemy with it, she bounces off them and soars up again.  If you can successfully hit enemies three times in a row with her drop-bounce, she'll burst into flame on the fourth strike and slam into the ground, dealing damage to anything nearby.

More than any other character in the Muramasa library, Rajyaki has benefited from the expressive, involved combat mechanics Vanillaware poured into 2013's Dragon's Crown.  Both her child and adult form offer more depth than any other character who's run through this beautiful 2D recreation of Japan - different enough from the other heroes to feel distinct, similar enough to remain comfortable - and the inclusion of the "crushing blows" ensures the player almost always has a strangely satisfying, powerful strategy at their fingertips.

She is the funnest character to play as.  Period.  She's also the funniest, as she's always so happy when she kicks the crap out of enemies,

Ya-tah!  Kicked their butt!

and one really gets a sense of her childlike glee and willingness to take things a bit too far, built right in to her combat mechanics.

When you press down and mash square when on the ground in her child form, for example, she'll turn into a horizontal buzzsaw with her axe, sweeping back and forth across the floor of a scene, only moderately guided by the player's instructions through the analog stick.  The longer you mash it, the more powerful her buzzsaw attack becomes - but if you take it too far, she'll come out of it all dizzy and seasick - and vulnerable to enemy attack.

You shoulda' known when to quit, kid.

A heady risk, when you consider that Rajyaki has the lowest defense of any Muramasa hero. She is a definitive glass cannon - ridiculously powerful, terribly vulnerable, and an absolute blast to play as.

Adult Rajyaki's secret art involves producing an orb of fire that she can then
(1) hit like a baseball with her club, obliterating everything in front of her,
(2) hit in an arc, so that it bounces around, randomly hitting a wider range for less damage or
(3) crack overhead into the ground in front of her, instantly detonating it and producing a shower of smaller projectiles.
Awesome - with far more utility than any other characters'.

Perhaps simply by virtue of being a comedy, her narrative doesn't carry the same memorable weight of the darkly tragic Fishy Tales of the Nekomata, but as one could expect, there is a definite sweetness to it - and an interesting symbolism, if you consider her three forms (innocent and sweet, sexy and mature, monstrous and powerful) as a caricature of the multi-faceted creatures that so beguile the minds of men.

Rajyaki, for her part, is so capable, earnest and dedicated to her fool of a husband, she's impossible to dislike - beyond being incredibly naïve (when in her child's guise), she's wholly endearing.

In classic rom-com form, Seikichi, for his part, finds kindness for the girl almost in spite of himself.  In that, Hell's Where the Heart Is is both the best-playing Genroku Legends adventure and a curiously accurate reflection of romantic love.  It's a story in which a man, mindful only of his baser instincts, discovers the best parts of himself - his capacity to genuinely, selflessly care for another - as he's dragged along, kicking, screaming and terrified.

Yeah, man.  That's love.